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This is another entry in my series of "Things I spent time writing to my Senators and Representative and don't want to vanish away into the ether never to be seen again."

It's about patent reform. I sent it via the Take Action widget on the right side of Patent Progress’s Guide to Federal Patent Reform Legislation, which I encourage you to read for more information on the topic.

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Mon Feb 09, 2015 at 06:29 PM PST

"Never" Again

by Certifiable Genius

I attempted to post a comment in response to the article Never Again? on the website of the Zionist Council of Victoria. Please read that article before reading the rest of this diary.

I considered it likely at the time that site management would not publish my comment, since it is a direct criticism of Zionism. Unfortunately, it seems that my concern was warranted. I am reproducing my comment here as a diary, despite my misgivings about how it will be received.

I hope that I can state my beliefs in what I believe to be a respectful manner, and that others will respond in what they believe to be a respectful manner, without anger or hostility.

I do not mean to criticize any person because of their place of birth, language, culture, ancestry, private religious beliefs, or citizenship. I do not mean to malign or demean anyone simply for being who they are. I do not wish to exacerbate the rifts that already exist between people who hold differing beliefs on this complex issue.

I certainly do not mean this as a comprehensive political manifesto, an absolute declaration of irreconcilable differences, or a condemnation of any group for the actions of some of its members.

I do mean to criticize bigotry. I do mean to criticize ideologies that divide people into "us" and "them". I do mean to criticize xenophobia. I do mean to criticize violence. I do mean to criticize the use of bigotry, divisiveness, xenophobia and/or violence to gain or maintain political, social, economic, and/or religious power. And I mean to criticize ethnic/national/religious double standards as just another kind of bigotry.

What I also mean to do is to clearly state my beliefs on this issue. I believe that past or present victims of oppression are not entitled to oppress others in turn. I believe that the differences between groups of human beings who have arbitrarily divided themselves or been divided into tribes, nations, ethnicities, parties, classes, castes,  and religions are trivial compared to our common humanity. I believe that in even the most emotionally charged conflicts no one is free from the responsibility to respect that common humanity.

The text of my comment, as originally submitted, follows.

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Joe Donnelly has once again shown his willingness to put future campaign contributions before his conscience, and voted for the Republican bill to force approval for Keystone XL.

Once again, I have written him an email, which I am posting here for comment, so that it doesn't simply disappear into the inky depths of his constituent email archive.

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I send a lot of comments to elected officials. One thing that somewhat concerns me is I spend time and energy writing them, and only one person, probably a low-level staffer will ever read them. So I'm going to start posting them here, in the hopes that someone will find them interesting or inspiring, or have some insight about improving them. This one is to Senator Joe Donnelly, in frustration over his wrongheaded support for Keystone XL.

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This diary contains unmarked spoilers for recent Marvel movies and real life events including but not limited to Iron Man 1, 2 & 3, the Afghan and Iraq War Logs, Captain America 1 & 2, the NSA leaks, and The Avengers. By reading past this paragraph you accept responsibility for learning things that you might rather not have.

In Iron Man, Iron Man 2 and Iron Man 3, Tony Stark has a common antagonist: The American military-industrial complex. In each case a military contractor uses a foreign terrorist to attack Tony Stark. In each case, they see Tony Stark as their primary obstacle to gaining vast wealth and power. Tony then proceeds to kick their ass. Focusing on a single heroic protagonist makes these movies less obviously political, since the personal drama is front-and-center while the allegory remains in the background.

Nobody in the Iron Man movies comes right out and says The US military and its merchants of death have far too much political and economic power, but I personally believe that the way the real bad guys use Not-The-Taliban in Iron Man, Some Russian Guy in Iron Man 2 and Not-Al-Qaeda in Iron Man 3 to enlarge their domestic fiefdoms cannot be a coincidence. The fictional defense contractors are doing things that real politicians and war profiteers are doing, but in a simplified, comic-book conspiracy fashion.

There are, of course differences. Only the most loony conspiracy theorists believe that the US secretly sponsored the Taliban and Al-Qaeda so that they would attack us later, false flag, yadda yadda. (The US actually secretly sponsored Islamic militants in Afghanistan to draw the Soviet Union in, so that it would become the Soviets' Vietnam.)

As political commentary, the Iron Man series is pretty thin, but there is definitely something there. On the one hand, I'm glad that the military-industrial complex is treated with at least some skepticism, but on the other hand Tony Stark gets a free pass to fly around in his super suit and kill people without any form of legal authority to do so.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, on the other hand, puts its devastating critique of the American surveillance state front and center. The ultimate reveal is that the bad guys are using dragnet electronic surveillance to create target profiles based on patterns of behavior which they then use to determine who they want to kill with their flying weapons platforms.

Sounds evil? Yes, it is. Sounds exactly like what the NSA, CIA and DoD are doing in real life right now? Yes, it is. The only real difference is that the movie bad guys are killing both combatants and civilians in the USA, while the real bad guys have been killing both combatants and civilians outside the USA.

Who saves the day? A small group of courageous patriots, who go against their own bosses and coworkers in order to expose the corruption deep in the heart of the intelligence community. As a last resort, the heroes upload reams of classified data to the Internet so that even if they are captured or killed, the bad guys won't be able to cover up their crimes.

Sounds awesome? Yes, it is. Sounds exactly like what Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, and other whistleblowers have done? Yes, it is.

I wrote this diary because I am both deeply disappointed and somewhat disturbed by the numerous reviews that ignore or downplay the political significance of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. From a representative AP review by Jake Coyle:

...Marvel films use a complicated current-events issue - NSA-like spying - to feign contemporary relevance. It's the appearance of having something to say. Captain America, a stand-in for a more innocent, noble America, wonders if the helicarriers are like holding a gun to everyone on Earth and calling it protection.

But that's about the extent of such talk in Winter Soldier: a political thriller without the politics.

On the contrary, The Winter Soldier deliberately and explicitly puts forward the idea that toppling governments, killing civilians, ignoring the law and using fear as a weapon is evil no matter who does it and no matter for what reasons they think they're doing it. It says that it's more important for the public to know the truth than to protect our sources and methods. And it says that if an agency has grown too corrupt, too self-serving, it may need to be demolished. That's not subtext. That's text. It's in the movie. The characters discuss it, out loud, using words. I don't know how much clearer it could be.

There's another significant dig at American authoritarianism that's somewhat more subtle. The title Captain America: The Winter Soldier is very clever. It uses the standard Series Title: Episode Subtitle format, so the obvious reading is that this is a Captain America movie in which he faces off against The Winter Soldier. The Winter Soldier in the comics was given that name as one of those typical groaner puns, because, see, he gets put in cryogenic storage when he's not out and about, see, get it, get it? I can forgive people for getting sidetracked by the history of the Winter Soldier name in the comics. But there's another reading which is equally, if not more plausible.

Thomas Paine wrote in 1776,

These are the times that try men's souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.
Vietnam Veterans Against The War called their public hearing on US war crimes in Vietnam the Winter Soldier Investigation because it was their intention to serve their country by telling the public what was really going on in Vietnam. At the time, summer soldiers and sunshine patriots bought into the official, false story that US soldiers didn't commit atrocities or war crimes. That the US military did not have policies in place that encouraged atrocities and war crimes. That the Vietnam War was a just war. The Winter Soldier Investigation, and others like it, dispelled that fantasy. More than a hundred eyewitnesses testified about the atrocities or war crimes that they had personally committed or seen committed. The US Military's own Vietnam War Crimes Working Group investigated and found evidence of hundreds of incidents.

Future Senator and Secretary of State John Kerry testified before a Senate Committee about the name:

We who have come here to Washington have come here because we feel we have to be winter soldiers now. We could come back to this country; we could be quiet; we could hold our silence; we could not tell what went on in Vietnam, but we feel because of what threatens this country, the fact that the crimes threaten it, not reds, and not redcoats but the crimes which we are committing that threaten it, that we have to speak out.
Which brings me to my point: In this movie, Captain America is The Winter Soldier. Yes, they do use that name for the dude with the metal arm, but he's only a Winter Soldier by virtue of a goofy pun. The name better applies to Steve Rogers. The authors of this film took the apolitical title from the comics and made it political. A Winter Soldier stands by his or her country, even when it may cost them their freedom or even their life. But they do not stand by blindly. They expose the secrets, the silence and the lies that our government tells us.

In the movie, the Winter Soldiers are people like Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanoff, Nick Fury, and Sam Wilson. In real life, our Winter Soldiers are people like Daniel Ellsberg, like the participants of the Winter Soldier Investigation, like Chelsea Manning, like Edward Snowden. The real people are no less heroic for the lack of CGI explosions and choreographed fight scenes. They are more heroic, because the consequences to real people don't end when the credits (and stingers, this being a Marvel movie) do.

I'm unsure whether reviewers are too stupid to see the parallels (unlikely), too full of themselves to take of all things a comic book movie seriously as political commentary (very, very likely), or have given themselves over to HY...

...I've said too much. I have to go now.

P.S. I wrote most of this before reading "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" Is About Obama's Terror-Suspect Kill List, Say the Film's Directors which confirms what I just said.

Update 1: Edited to reflect the fact that the name The Winter Soldier is used a few times in the movie to refer to the dude with the metal arm. Thanks to Whimsical for the correction.


I think that the NRA's and Gun Owners of America's paranoid opposition to reasonable gun control is going to backfire. Consider the case of marriage equality. If the homophobes had been willing to grant all couples civil unions, with identical rights and responsibilities to marriage, the issue could have been settled without recourse to Constitutional rights lawsuits. But homophobes bought into the slippery slope fallacy, that civil unions were just a stepping stone to forcing christian churches to perform same-sex marriages at gunpoint, the collapse of western civilization, yadda yadda. They fought just as hard against same-sex civil unions as same-sex marriages. But equality advocates rightly concluded that if there was no compromise to be gained, there was no point in attempting compromise. They gave up on civil unions, fought for (and got) full marriage equality.

Now look at gun control in the same light. Gun nuts have bought into the slippery slope fallacy in exactly the same way, claiming that simple, sensible measures like universal background checks, treating guns like cars and requiring licensing, registration, and insurance, limits on magazine size, etc. will inevitably lead to government death squads roaming the streets in armored vehicles, yadda yadda. I believe that their refusal to budge on even the most reasonable efforts to prevent mass shootings will lead to a similar conclusion among gun control advocates: if there can be no compromise, then why bother to try to achieve a moderate solution? If small steps are just as unacceptable as large steps, why not go for the large steps?

Gun ownership advocates have a choice. They can do nothing but obstruct, and see more draconian gun control laws come when the dam finally does break, or compromise now, and try to find a middle path, together.

P.S. Personally, I favor repealing the Second Amendment, but that's not likely any time soon.


What is the deadliest weapon you believe the Second Amendment unconditionally guarantees the right to keep and bear?

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| 11 votes | Vote | Results


I was looking at information about photovoltaic solar energy, wind energy, electric cars, plug-in hybrids and such last night. Through a chain of links and searches I can't quite remember, I found an article published by the National Legal and Policy Center about Sally Jewell, the Obama administrations's new nominee for Secretary of the Interior. I found it immediately apparent that this was a fossil-fuel industry hit piece that bore essentially no relationship to real public policy.

I found out from Sourcewatch what the NLPC's real motivating force is: "NLPC’s predominate sources of funding are the Scaife Foundations. Richard Mellon Scaife is heir to the Mellon banking, oil and aluminum fortune. He is the premier financier for right wing political and policy organizations in the United States. The Mellon family owns Gulf Oil."

According to their About Us page, "NLPC promotes ethics in public life through research, investigation, education and legal action." They provide a page where anyone can report "...information about fraudulent or questionable activities in or by the government, large corporations, or government contractors..." Well, since their own article struck me as a fraudulent and questionable activity by a large corporation, I felt compelled to respond to the call.

Armed with more of a sense of dramatic irony than any real expectation of accomplishment, I submitted the following report to their own Report Corruption page.

I want to report a possible example of collusion between government, industry and a purported "public interest" group.

This supposedly public interest article uses questionable sources: industry lobbying groups and elected officials in the pockets of these same industry lobbying groups to smear a potential civil service nominee by making false claims about resource extraction: mining doesn't harm the public and the environment? Ever heard of Mountaintop Removal? Fossil fuels are good for the economy? Wind and solar are now cheaper than coal and gas in some markets and solar is already generating huge savings by reducing peak daytime loads.

There is clearly a conflict of interest between NLPC's industry ties through its funding by the Scaife foundations and its claims of unbiased anti-corruption activism. Please investigate these issues and act on them with all possible speed.

Thank you.

I included my contact information. If they respond, I'll provide updates as warranted.

Edited to provide context, as suggested. Thanks for the feedback!

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